Live at Firefly: Part One (of Two)
July 27, 2012 1 Comment
By: Michael McDermott
The lineup for Firefly Music Festival, released months and months ago, had me hooked from the moment I read it. In fact, from the moment I found out that my three favorite bands, The Killers, OK Go, and The Black Keys (in that order, if you were wondering), were playing in the same place within three days of each other, I knew one thing – I have to go to that for free. And so the scheming began. I quickly rushed to the festival website to learn how to volunteer. I sent in my application as soon as they would take it and waited impatiently until I was accepted. And from April until last weekend, knowing that I’d have to clean garbage from strangers just to be there, I toiled in pure excitement – each day longer than the next – spent waiting. And then, finally, July 19th arrived…
Disclaimer – during the rest of this article I could potentially paint an unflattering picture of myself (as well as my generation), so if this is your first impression of me, know this: I’m responsible, hard-working, smart, talented, helpful, and a whole bunch of great things… And if this isn’t your first impression of me, know this: from Thursday night until Monday morning, I partied my ass off and had the most fun of my life.
As a volunteer, I’m required to check-in at the Dover Downs Speedway, right next to the campsite where I’ll spend the next four days. Realizing the opportunity to contribute an article for Jive, I decide to chronicle every moment in my phone and write a nice little article. I will tell of the bands I hear, the food I eat, the accommodations, whatever. I have a charming article in mind in which I will explore the mundane of my first music festival. So I check in, log it in my phone. I go to camp, log it, struggle to set up a tent, log it. Meet neighbors, log it, etc. But then nighttime came, the clouds broke open, and a hellish storm rolled in just as the festival was unofficially starting.
It was a lot like the first day of college, where you begin chilling in your dorm with the door open and not wanting to leave in case someone walks in. People just sat around waiting for the party to start, but refusing to start it themselves. Until around 10:30pm when someone shouted, “FIREFLYYYYY” and all of the eager freshmen rushed to join. As rain poured, drinks were poured. With every passing moment, each person giving less of a fuck what happened. Everyone around us was very “in the moment.” It was refreshing. The people you met were like people you already knew. Night 1 of camping was like the first or most fun frat party you’ve ever been to – you didn’t mind the fact that you were dead broke, had no understanding of where you were, and didn’t know anyone there, because you were drunk and had zero responsibility. And with music blasting, there were 20-person games of flip cup, Frisbees flying, pong tournaments (I saw a girl hit six cups in a row, miss once, hit four more in a row. That’s unprecedented and warrants mentioning. If you want me to tie it into the story somehow, I’ll say it was a good omen or something), singing, dancing, camaraderie. Everybody loves everybody, but not in a hippie way. Rather, in a “hi, how are you, I’m probably just as happy as you are to be here, let’s be friends” way. And each person there enhanced the scene so that everyone was the life of the party.
A Swedish guy who spoke no English and his best friend who didn’t understand him run past me while I mingle and ask the normal questions: “Where are you from?” “What’s your assignment?” “Who’d you come to see?” “What’d you say your name was?” And the abnormal questions: “Where do you even buy a bra with flashing neon lights?” “So did you give everyone a fake name?” “Did you know the Swedish kid is actually an amateur actor?” Somehow, with the party winding down, everyone found their own niche. The crew you were hanging with for the weekend. Your go-to party buddies.
Friday, July 20th
Lineup (In Italics are bands I saw): Turf War, Heartless Bastards, Blind Pilot, The Wallflowers, Matt Costa, OK Go, Mayer Hawthorne and The County, John Legend, Walk The Moon, Bassnectar, Silversun Pickups, Jack White.
The wreckage of last night glaring me in the eye, I arise to figure out breakfast. Peering around, it’s easy to notice that food was a serious afterthought for most campers. I rummage through my van (which also served as a handy tent when everything was soaked and knocked over because of the storm) for some breakfast. The meal of chips and beer doesn’t agree with my stomach as well as it did the night before, but that’s all anyone has for breakfast. Some kids hustle off to their first shift, hung-over or still drunk. It seems as though responsibility is also a serious afterthought.
Music doesn’t start until 2:30 and I don’t have to work until 5, so I pick up where I left off last night before heading into the festival. I’m taken aback by the cleanliness and organization of the place. Despite the still wet grass and muddy paths, the festival lot is charming. Upon entering, I’m introduced to the first large stage right in front of me and a bit further down, the smallest stage. Tents line the sides of the festival dealing merchandise, expensive food, expensive drinks, and information to the patrons. Everything is a lot less confusing than the map made it seem. In fact, without the large crowds, it seems pretty small. I waste no time in running straight to the back, through a cutely decorated wooded area, to “The Brewery” in order to check out the exclusive microbrew from Dogfish Head – “Firefly Ale.” The name lacks flavor, but the beer doesn’t. I take it over to see the first show.
The Heartless Bastards are rocking some blues song with a lady lead singer wailing and a guy identical to Cole Hamels on the drums. Following the show I head straight for my first shift. I have to check in an hour early, but I’m one of the few people who actually do. Everyone else gradually stumbles in to check in about five minutes before start time. This makes me even more upset because I’m currently missing the OK Go set. As we gather around in near the stage on which OK Go plays, I ignore the rundown our boss gives. I’m sure it was important, but I’ve decided that I wholeheartedly don’t care.
As what seems like karmic punishment, I’m forced to go work at the stage farthest from the show I’d like to see. I’m angry and kicking dirt while our new boss gives us a speech about all of our “responsibilities.” I don’t remember how the conversation ended, because I snuck away to see OK Go.
I’m baffled by the ease at which I gaily dance to the front of the stage. OK Go is seriously a lot of fun to watch. They’re happy, talented, engaged, and everything you want to see from a live band. And even though I’ve seen them once before, they still surprised me with how much they owned. They play their classics, like that tune from Madden ’03 and the Treadmill Song. But then they surprise the loyal fanboys (myself included) with deep cuts from their latest record. I hardly want to leave, but it is time for another show and maybe some work.
I hustle back after the show to do whatever it is I do during my shift and end up standing at the main stage to watch the black Michael Buble (John Legend). He is really underwhelming. Not that he isn’t talented because he is undoubtedly the best singer at the entire festival, but no one there wants to stand around and watch a guy sit there and belt tunes like he’s pandering to people on the subway. I’m sure in the right setting, he’s quite good, but here it is a total buzzkill, which means that the Silversun Pickups are a total headache.
Despite what I heard was a great show by the Pickups, I have to leave early (and have a drink…). If you want to know about Silversun, know this – rumors include him calling out a guy to come on stage, throwing water bottles, smoking a joint on stage, and getting the crowd to cheer for a total stranger. I guess I missed a doozy.
Now signed out of my shift, I roll over to the Jack White show, the last of the evening. Now, I’m not a very big Jack White fan. I like a few of the White Stripes songs, but overall I could really care less. I find a spot somewhere in the middle and get ready. The next series of events goes something like this:
9:30 – Jack White comes on right on time and the crowd goes wild.
9:31 – Jack hits the first note and no one can hear it.
9:32 – Jack starts to sing, but only his microphone works and there is just about no other sound.
9:40 – After ten minutes of horrible sound, the crowd is getting restless. I can feel the tension and with all of the drunken mania in the crowd, I’m fearing a riot.
9:42 – Drums kick on, then off. Then bass kicks on, then off. Then guitar, the same.
I’m convinced this show is a disastrous waste of time and I’m ready to leave when Jack says, “I’m gonna play a country song.” The levels and volume sound good, so I decide to hear him out. He breaks out into a great country diddy and the whole crowds starts dancing and singing and screaming! From that point on, Jack White proceeds to own the stage. He plays three Stripes songs and then a ton of originals. He exerts such dominance over the crowd and owns the stage, ripping powerful riff after powerful riff from his guitar. Someone I spoke with likened it to seeing an average movie with a superstar in it who carried the whole thing and made it great. That was Jack White. He was Tom Hanks in Castaway. Could that movie have worked without Hanks? Not a chance. But when he yells, “WILSOOOONNNNN!!!” you can’t help but love the guy.
Jack White closes with “Seven Nation Army.” The crowd can’t/won’t stop cheering the main hook. “Woah, ooh oh oh oh oh, OH!” The chant roars on and on until it is totally evident that there will be no encore. Jack played until exactly 11 o’clock. When they turn the lights up, it becomes apparent that any encores taking place this weekend will be totally planned. Kind of disappointing, but not enough to deter my attitude. I stand shocked until I’m swept away by the crowd all the way back to camp, all the while people still chanting Jack’s final tune.
The after-party is tame. A few people muster the courage to pound a couple of beers, but for the most part, people use this night as a time to recover. It is much needed. I crawl into my damp tent and pull the damp covers over my damp self. It sounds shitty, but here’s the thing: this moment of discomfort is so trite compared to what I have going for me. The first night and day of the festival are a realization of what it is to be young. It’s fun and dangerous to do all the things your parents always told you not to. Don’t talk to strangers – check. Don’t drink – check. Don’t stay up too late – check. I reflect on my time here and realize how well I fit in. How well everyone fits in. The people you meet are happy to offer you their food, their tent, their anything. It’s an amazing dose of humanity to see so many people care about you. I don’t want to get preachy or anything, but if Firefly has taught me one thing so far it’s this: be a good person. And you don’t have to do great things or the right thing to be a good person, but if you exert your goodness, it will always be returned.
I’m dozing off now wondering what tomorrow could bring. The next few days and nights are sure to bring about more debauchery. And as excited as I am for the next day, I’m happy appreciating what I have. I have my youth and I have my health (which, for the record, won’t last me past Monday). I have a few good years to do exactly nothing until society deems me a freeloading loser. And I’m glad to enjoy it while I can… I’m sorry for getting sappy here to wrap things up. I got carried away. But just know that this isn’t a total shit-show nor is it some big life-altering conquest of the earth. I’m not awakening to my life now in this moment – but I am living it.